Murder vs. Assasination

When is a person considered assasinated as opposed to murdered?

When the victim is famous, especially a famous political figure.

“Don’t get me wrong–I love Biggie, I love Tupac, but school will be open on they birthday!” --Chris Rock

The various definitions at all seem to indicate that there is supposed to be a political component to the murder.

I’d say an alternate definition in common usage is murder for hire - people often in my experience call a “whacking” an assassination.

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of victims.

Murders where the victim and the killer don’t know each other and the victim was essentially just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Murders where the victim and killer know each other and the murder has a personal motive.

Murders where the killer knows who the victim is but the victim doesn’t know the killer. These murders are generally the ones that could be considered assassinations.

There are some obvious exceptions. A contract killer doesn’t know his victim but the person who hired the killer does and it’s his personal motive that instigated the murder. Some assassination victims do know their killers - Julius Caesar for example. But in those cases there are usually personal motives involved in the murder along with the more common assassination motives.

I thought this looked familiar. I asked the same thing a couple of years ago. Here’s the answers I got.

Personally, I don’t think that fame defines it really. I feel that there must be some kind of ideological component to it. Biggie and Tupak were killed in gang violence. That’s not assassination. John Lennon, even seems like a weak case to me, but you could make the argument that he was something of a political figure at the time. He meant more than his fame to a lot of people, for instance.

If George Clooney were killed, it wouldn’t be an assassination, in my opinion. Bill Gates? I think, yes. Assassination seems, to me, predicated upon altering the course of history. People assassinate in order to change the future. Killing George Clooney won’t really change the future in that sense.

I think it could be more peronal and still have a solid political component. I can’t think of any other word for the Stalin-ordered killing of Leon Trotsky except “assassination,” even though it really didn’t help Stalin any and probably wasn’t intended to.

Consider many Mafia killings, in which the murder is for hire but the hirer does know the victim personally… however, the motive is often “political” within the framework of organized crime. Is this an assassination? I’d say yes.

Does the “political” element mean any politican’s murder or does it mean it must be politically motivated

For instance, if John McCain murders Obama, so he can win, this would be poltically motivated.

But what if Michelle Obama finds out Barack is cheating on her with another woman, and she murders Obama. That clearly is not poltically motivated.

So in the first instance Obama would be assasinated but in the second would that be assasinated or just murder?

This paper discusses a few legal definitions of assassination:

The Messiah of all that is good and wonderful would never stoop to fornicate with another woman.

ducks flying objects

Seriously, I think there has to be a political motive. Michelle offing her husband for infidelity would be a murder, not an assassination.

And see generally, “Assassination Ban and E.O. 12333:
A Brief Summary,”

Killing Bill Gates in 1988 would have changed the world.
Perhaps killing him in 1996 would have changed the world.
In 2008, he’s moved from software to philanthropy, and while he’s certainly helping the world, he’s probably fired most of his bullets…

But if George Clooney or any other actor was to be killed over his support for a political cause or because he made a film which offended someone’s political or religious agenda then I think it would be assassination.